SFPD to create elite team to deal with mental health calls

February 9, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
At a meeting Wednesday night, the San Francisco Police Commission announced plans to create an elite unit of officers with specialized training to handle situations involving the mentally disabled. This comes on the heels of incident in January in which a man in a wheelchair was shot during a confrontation with police.

There was jubilation at City Hall Wednesday night as some of the commissioners left saying it was the best meeting they had ever been a part of.

The vote was unanimous to begin training officers like they do in Memphis, Tennessee and adopt their business model.

The commission looked into new ways to deal with mentally disturbed citizens. About 900 officers have already been through a three-hour training program, but that training stopped last summer because of budget cuts. Now, the police commission embraced a highly-regarded new model presented by researchers from the University of Memphis.

"I would urge you to put the resources into this program that it needs to succeed because this program is going to make a huge difference for our communities," said Eduardo Vega, executive director of the Mental Health Association of San Francisco.

The Memphis model allows select officers to volunteer for elite Crisis Intervention Training, or CIT. The trained teams would then work their regular assignments, but could quickly be dispatched to a mental health call.

The CIT officers would be available 24/7 and would network with local mental health experts. Acting Police Chief Jeff Godown wants to take it a step further.

"The reality is the CIT program should be morphed into standardized training for any officer to have any contact with anybody," said Godown.

The immediate action comes on the heels of a Jan. 4 incident in which San Francisco police shot and wounded 55-year-old Randall Dunklin as he sat in a wheelchair. He slashed an officer in the shoulder. Dunklin is now in jail and his attorney said they're considering filing a lawsuit against the city.

"I'm glad to see that they're considering at least what the community has asked them to consider," said attorney Eric Safire.

The resolution passed and the police chief is asking for 30 days to tweak it and make a few adjustments. They need to figure out when they would start the training and whether it would be for all the officers or a very small group to start with. No word on how much this will cost, but they do think it will take a full year to implement.


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